Second Hand September

It’s hard to believe that September is almost upon us and that, at least here in London, the leaves are already starting to fall! I still associate September with the excitement of back-to-school shopping, even though it has now been more years than I would like to count since the last September in which I was last headed back to school. September’s association with shopping for many of us makes it a great month to think about the impact of clothing and shopping habits, and particularly about the prevalent culture of throwaway fashion. I therefore was delighted to hear that Oxfam is sponsoring Second Hand September, a 30-day no new clothes challenge. I encourage anyone interested to join in Second Hand September. Believe me, if I can manage no new or second hand clothes for nearly ten months now, you can manage no new stuff for a month!

Those interested in participating in Second Hand September can find more information and take the pledge at oxfam.org.uk/secondhand. The pledge is a little less hardcore than my No New Nothing because you can still buy used clothing items from secondhand stores. You can participate without taking the pledge of course, but if you sign up with Oxfam they will send you advice on to help use reuse, rewear and recycle.

I considered but ultimately decided not to allow myself to buy secondhand items as part of my No New Nothing year because, while my own challenge was driven in part by concerns about the environmental impact of my shopping habits, I also wanted to address my own issues with generally having too much stuff. I felt like I needed to be cut off from the temptation to buy stuff just because it was cute or cheap, regardless whether it was new or secondhand. However, I think buying secondhand is a terrific way to address the environmental side of my concerns about our consumer culture. Before doing this year of No New Nothing, I’m not sure I would have considered it feasible to buy only secondhand clothing, but one thing I have learned from this year is how unimportant to my life new clothes actually are. Once I broke the habit of buying and realized that being ‘up to date’ on fashion wasn’t really important or meaningful to my life (or even really something anyone noticed about me), it seems like buying only (or at least mainly) secondhand could be a great way to save money and reduce harmful waste. After my year of No New Nothing ends in November, I plan to start buying mainly secondhand (although I’ll of course continue to buy things like underwear and tennis shoes brand spanking new!).

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The Simple Bare Necessities

One of my rules of No New Nothing is that I can replace essential items of clothing that I need to function. When I started out, I thought there would be quite a few of these types of things—you know, the underpants and socks variety—that I would need to replace this year and that I would find myself posting about them regularly. I thought it would be interesting to learn and document exactly what those things were as I went along. The big surprise for me has been how little I have needed to replace. Even my white socks, although looking a little dingy, are nowhere near ready for the graveyard. Maybe in the past I would have chucked them at this stage, but I’ve learned that most of our stuff lasts a lot longer than the life we give it.

That said, I’ve recently ‘had to’ make three purchases under the ‘need to function’ rule. Here’s what they were, and why I decided they qualified.

First, I replaced my sneakers. I could still wear the old ones for walking, but I was starting to feel the impact from the worn treads when I ran and decided to save my feet and knees from unnecessary pain and long-term damage. I guess I don’t strictly ‘need to’ run and could have just stopped running for the rest of the year, but I enjoy running with the dog and count exercise as something I need to function.

Second, I bought a bathing suit while on vacation in Switzerland last week. I hadn’t brought one with me on the trip because I wasn’t expecting to go swimming in the Alps, and I am not even sure that I had one I could have brought. The last time I bought a swimsuit was for my the Zanzibar part of our honeymoon in 2014, and I haven’t seen that one in a long time. Clearly I am not a beach holiday person … Anyways, after we arrived in Switzerland, I discovered that our hotel in Zermatt had an absolutely gorgeous pool overlooking the Matterhorn (and there was a chance we would go to some thermal baths), so I picked up a bathing to be able to partake. Did I really ‘need to’ go swimming? No, definitely not, but I didn’t think I should be prevented from doing what I wanted to do on my holiday because I didn’t have the right attire. I guess I justified this one to myself as being more about having an experience than about having a thing. No New Nothing is in part about not having things just for the sake of having things, but in this case not having the thing would have held me back from having the experience.

Third, I bought some Wickron hiking socks in Zermatt. I absolutely hate the feeling of wool on my feet or having socks touch my ankles, so I am a crazy person who hikes in my regular low-rise sports socks rather than in proper wool socks. Luckily my feet are as tough as they come and rarely blister. However, my usual socks do start to feel thin by the end of a long day, so I decided to try a pair of these synthetic Wickron socks we found in Zermatt the night before our last hike. I had never heard of Wickron before—guess that shows how long it’s been since I’ve even bothered looking at the wool socks section! They worked great, and in any event I would have had to hike in dirty socks without them because I had run out of socks! This was another, if I hadn’t bought them, my experience would have been worse.

My takeaway is that, particularly when it comes to clothes, there are some things we buy in order to enable us to do something and then there are some things we buy just for the sake of having them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some things just for the sake of having them, whether it’s aesthetic enjoyment or what have you, but it’s important to think more about why we buy and have things. I need to remember to ask myself: Is this thing I’m about to buy really going to serve my life positively>

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